Leeds and the Chinese Olympic Committee have today announced that the sporting superpower will use the Yorkshire city as its official European pre-Games training base ahead of the London 2012 games.
In a major international achievement for the city and the region, approximately 300 athletes, coaches and support staff representing China in at least 11 sports will be based in Leeds as they prepare and acclimatise to English conditions before heading to London for the Games which start on 27 July next year.
Leeds had already announced a deal in March to be the training base for the China track and field team, and Chinese Olympic officials who visited earlier this year have been so impressed by the range and close proximity of facilities that they have now decided to make the city their official European pre-Games training base for their Olympic programme.
The deal has been agreed with the Chinese Olympic Committee by Leeds City Council, and is supported by The University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University, with the initial direct financial benefit from hosting the team expected to be a minimum of £250,000.
The athletes coming to Leeds will be representing their country pending qualification in mountain biking, fencing, modern pentathlon, athletics, swimming, women's water polo, women's handball, women's hockey, table tennis, boxing and taekwondo. Discussions are also ongoing regarding a number of other Olympic sports.
The majority of the athletes will be based in accommodation at the University of Leeds. They will train in sports facilities at both universities, the John Charles Centre for Sport and venues further afield such as Dalby Forest for mountain biking, Bishop Burton near Beverley for modern pentathlon, and Wakefield for hockey.
China are a world superpower at Olympic level, having topped the medal table in their home Olympics in Beijing in 2008, claiming 51 golds and a total of 100 medals overall.
The most high-profile among the Chinese athletes coming to the city will be their table tennis stars who enjoy near-total dominance over the rest of the world. Such is their stranglehold at the top of the sport that China currently boasts four of the top five men and five of the leading six women in the current world rankings, while they have also swept the board by winning every available title at the individual World Table Tennis Championships since 2003.
The aquatics disciplines have also had a successful year, winning more medals than any other nation at the recent FINA World Championships. Chinese swimmers also currently hold six world records, while diver Li Na who won Olympic gold in Sydney in 2000 has been studying at the University of Leeds since January 2010 and is a sports presenter for Chinese television network CCTV.
As well as the direct financial benefits of hosting the China team, the agreement is also expected to provide a major long-term boost to trade, commerce and tourism as well as strengthening cultural ties between Leeds, Yorkshire, the UK and China.
The deal further reinforces the already strong links between Leeds and China as the city and Hangzhou in the Zhejiang Province have enjoyed a sister city agreement for the last 23 years and there is a sizeable Chinese population living in Leeds.
The University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University both attract Chinese students to Leeds to complete a wide range of courses, while Leeds Met deliver a number of degree courses in China in partnership with a number of Chinese universities.
The full details of the team's stay in Leeds are still being finalised, but it is expected that local people and especially schoolchildren will be able to watch and be inspired by seeing some of the world's top athletes training in the city.
Director for National Team Management in the Chinese Olympic Committee Mr Yang said: "Officials from the Chinese Olympic Committee have visited a range of sports facilities in Leeds and Yorkshire. We are confident that Leeds and Yorkshire will make a very good pre-Olympic training camp base for our sports teams and that our athletes will be very happy with the arrangements we are making in Leeds for our preparations for the London 2012 Olympic Games."
Chair of the London 2012 Organising Committee Sebastian Coe said: "National Olympic Committees from around the world are developing strong relationships with the UK to aid their training in advance of London 2012. With less than a year to go to the Games, these plans are likely to result in legacy benefits across sporting, educational, cultural and economic agendas. Leeds will have some of the potential stars of 2012 training in the city, and I know Leeds will be a brilliant and hospitable base for the Chinese athletes and their preparations for London 2012."
Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Keith Wakefield said: "This is a historic and magnificent achievement for Leeds to have secured arguably the biggest Olympic sporting superpower to base themselves in our city ahead of London 2012.
"For China to choose Leeds as their official pre-Games European base is a phenomenal honour and its effect will go way beyond the financial benefit or simply raising the profile of our city - the impact of this is likely to be felt for generations in a huge number of ways. We cannot wait for our very special guests to arrive next year and we can guarantee them a fantastic Yorkshire welcome."
University of Leeds Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Arthur said: "It's a great honour for the university and city of Leeds that China has chosen to complete their preparations for the London 2012 Olympic Games here.
"We have superb facilities on campus and more than 1,500 students from China at the University, and I know we will provide a superb training camp environment for world-class athletes. Our staff and students will give the Chinese team a wonderful reception next year and I hope be inspired by our involvement with the 2012 Olympics."
Leeds Metropolitan University Vice-Chancellor Professor Susan Price said: "Our university has been associated with sporting excellence for many years going back to when Carnegie College was founded in 1933 and we are delighted that the Chinese track and field team will be based with us next year.
"The Olympic Games offer endless opportunities to be part of something special and our staff and students look forward to welcoming the Chinese team, in fact excitement has already started to build among our community of Chinese students.
"Our university shares many of the values associated with the Olympics, such as respect, friendship and excellence, and we very much look forward to working with our partners in the city on this important initiative which will bring a massive boost for our region."
Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire and Chair of Yorkshire Gold Gary Verity said: "This signing is fantastic news not just for Leeds but the whole of the county. Not only will the Chinese team train in Leeds' first class sports facilities but they will also use the fantastic cycling facilities at Dalby Forest and the equestrian centre at Bishop Burton.
"China's an important market for us; visitor numbers are up and we see China as a significant long term investment. This announcement will only cement the relationship still further."
Along with the teams from China, Leeds will also be hosting athletes from the USA, Serbia, Canada and Holland ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. Discussions are continuing with a number of other countries.
For more information on Leeds and its work towards the London 2012 Games, visit leedsgold.co.uk
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